What to say about September 11th, this year, didn’t come to me until I was standing in front of a client’s leaders, talking with them about retaining employees and what they could do to become an even better place to work.
Their office isn’t too far from Shankesville, PA, where flight 93 crashed on September 11th, so they seemed like the right group with whom to share my story. Then I decided that perhaps I should share it with you too.
I bought my first house in Denver in 1999 and went on vacation shortly after closing on the house. Right before I left, my manager told me he had too many direct reports and was putting a layer between us. I’d have a new boss when I came back from my vacation.
Two weeks later, I returned to my new manager and found her to be defensive, paranoid, and irrational – in short, impossible to work with. I did everything I knew to work well with her, calling on our HR department and the EAP counseling available to me, for help. Despite that I led communication skills training for the company and taught conflict resolution, I couldn’t work with her, and let my old boss know I’d be leaving.
I suspect he already knew my new boss wasn’t going to work out (I wasn’t the only person struggling to work with her), and offered me a position in our New York office. He told me that if after 90-days I wanted to return to Denver, I could. Ninety-days in New York with all my expenses paid or unemployment with no plan? The choice was clear. I went to New York and moved into my office in Tower Two of the World Trade Center, where I worked on September 11th.
I’m not proud of uprooting my whole life for a manager I couldn’t work with, and it’s not something I recommend others do. But it does demonstrate the difference one person can make. I never actually lived in that first house I bought. I accepted a permanent job in New York, but wasn’t ready to let go of my life in Denver. So I struggled with the decision of whether to stay in New York or return to Denver, for three years.
It’s normal to question our purpose and wonder if we make a difference. If you ask these questions, consider all the people you work with on a daily basis and how you impact their daily lives. We spend a huge portion of our existence at work, and how we interact with coworkers, customers, direct reports, and vendors impacts their happiness, or lack thereof, in a big way.
Don’t underestimate the difference you make when you smile at someone in the hallway at work, or don’t. When you thank someone for making your job easier, or don’t. When you take the time to teach someone a quicker way to do something, saving him countless of hours, or don’t. Regardless of your title and position in your organization, you impact the people around you in a huge way, every day.
During last week’s training in Pennsylvania, I talked about the four things essential to retaining employees.
Retaining employees –the four things employees need to be satisfied and engaged at work:
I trust the leaders who run this organization.
My opinion means something. I am listened to.
I feel respected (by my manager). We have a good working relationship.
My work is challenging and interesting. My career is going somewhere here.
If you’re a manager working on retaining employees, spend time with your employees. Ask questions about their career goals. Take the time to coach and give feedback. If you’re a senior leader committed to retaining employees, be visible. Walk around your office(s), addressing employees by name, and asking about their daily work. And if you’re not in a position of leadership, be easy to work with by keeping your commitments, being a short cut and providing information when you can, and offering to help employees who are overwhelmed. Retaining employees is not just a manager’s job. Every person we work with impacts our daily lives more than we know.
Saying no is hard. We don’t want to disappoint or let people down. And yet, you can’t say yes to everything. You can say no and still sound like a responsible, easy-to-work-with, accommodating professional.
Here are four techniques for how to say no:
Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”
Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about his request.
2. Tell the person you need some time to think about his request. Ask, “Can I have a few days to think about it? I’ll get back to you by Friday.”
You don’t need to reply in the moment. I often regret things I agree to without thinking through the request thoroughly.
3. Consider what you really want and are willing to do. It’s much worse to over commit and under deliver than to simply say no or renegotiate requests.
4. Get back to the person in a timely way (when you said you would) and tell him what you’re willing to do.
How to Say No Option One: Simply say no.
Example: “I really appreciate you asking me to write the proposal for the __________ RFP. I’m not able to do that. Can I recommend someone else who has the expertise and will do a great job?”
Don’t give a bunch of reasons for saying no. People aren’t interested in why we can or can’t do something. They just want to know if we will do it.
How to Say No Option Two: Agree and negotiate the time frame.
Example: “I’d be happy to do that. I can’t do it before the last week of the month. Would that work for you?” If the answer is no, negotiate further. Ask, “When do you really need it? I can certainly do pieces by then, but not the whole thing. Given that I can’t meet your timeline, who else can work on this in tandem or instead of me?”
How to Say No Option Three: Say no to the request but say what you can do.
Example: “I can’t do _______. But I can do ________. How would that work?”
A review of how to say no:
Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours.
Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
Keep your commitments.
Saying no is always hard. But it’s always better to say no than to ignore requests, or to say yes and do nothing.
We added to our team at Candid Culture a few weeks ago, so we did what I teach other organizations to do –use Candor Questions to onboard our new team member, and help the entire team get to know each other better.
I sent my team the Candor Questions below and asked them to pick a few additional team building questions for everyone on the team to answer.
What will keep you working here and what would make you leave?
What’s the best way to get information to you – voicemail, text, or email?
What time is too early?
What time is too late?
Do you leave your email and/or text alerts on at night/when you go to sleep?
Would you prefer I send all emails and text messages during regular business hours?
What frustrates you at work?
What are your pet peeves?
What’s something you want to learn, skill or business wise, that you haven’t had a chance to do?
What’s something you wish I would start, stop, or continuing doing?
We run so fast at work and are so focused on completing goals, we often don’t take the time to really get to know the people we work with. I feel very strongly that asking the team building questions above will help people work better together. We’ll make fewer ‘mistakes’ with each other, and get more done with less stress and more ease. As William Ury said in his book, Getting to Yes, “Go slow to go fast.”
How many times have you sent someone five emails and become frustrated when none were returned? Or you thought an employee was happy, only to be surprised when she quit? Or you needed to talk with someone but couldn’t get her attention, so you walked by her office throughout the day, wondering if it was ok to knock? Working with other people doesn’t have to be so hard.
Taking the time to ask team building questions is much faster than recovering from missteps with other people. Ask the questions at the beginning of anything new – when you hire a new employee, get a new customer, or start a new project. And keep asking the questions as you work with people.
Asking questions about working style preferences and goals is an ongoing process, and it’s never too late. You can ask the team building questions during meetings or just slip them into your conversations. The process doesn’t have to be formal or time consuming. The point is simply, don’t guess what people need and are expecting from you, ask.
I always try to do the right thing. I try to remember and send cards for special occasions. Apologize for mistakes, or better yet, don’t make any. Listen more than I talk. Be a great boss. Keep in touch with friends near and far. Always take the high road. Never lose my temper or patience. Eat healthy. Get fewer parking tickets. I could go on and on and on. In short, I want to be perfect. And I’m annoyed that I’m not.
Lately I’ve begun to realize that my desire to be perfect is causing me stress, diminishing my happiness, and preventing me from pursuing things I really want. So here’s to overcoming perfectionism. I hope the steps here help all of us who are frustrated that we’re not perfect.
Overcoming perfectionism tip number one: When you make a choice, go with it. Don’t second guess yourself.
If you decide to skip a party, networking event, or class at the gym, you have a good reason. Don’t question yourself or say, “I should have.”
Overcoming perfectionism tip number two: Stop thinking that life has to look a certain way.
Maybe you’re in a job that doesn’t challenge you 100%, or you wish you were saving more money. Be careful not to buy into others’ views of how life should be lived. You’re living your life in the way it works for you.
Overcoming perfectionism tip number three: Don’t compare yourself to others.
Comparing ourselves to other people is normal and natural, and it’s the booby prize. There will also be people who are more successful, more fit, and more attractive than us. Those seemingly perfect folks have challenges and disappointments we will never know about.
Overcoming perfectionism tip number four: If you make a mistake, apologize once and move on.
I often feel badly for ‘mistakes’ long after they’re over. The other person is likely to have forgotten about the incident long after I’m still feeling guilty.
Overcoming perfectionism tip number five: Worry less what people think.
Human beings are wired for survival. Most people are so worried about themselves; they’re not preoccupied with you. So do your thing and assume the rest of the world is not watching.
Overcoming perfectionism tip number six: Try new things and be willing to make mistakes.
We won’t have anything different if we don’t do anything different. Learn a new skill, try a new way to solve a problem, and be willing to look silly and fail.
I’m hoping the tips above provide both me and my striving-to-be-perfect comrades some freedom. By suggesting you live your desired life, I’m not saying ignore responsibilities, be rude, or put yourself first all the time. I am saying that living life the way you think it should be lived, versus how you really want to live it, will diminish your personal happiness and satisfaction. And as far as we know, we only go around once.
The people you live and work with are hesitant to give you negative feedback. They’re afraid you’ll freak out, and they don’t want to deal your freak out. It’s easier to say nothing.
When I started teaching how to give and receive feedback, I provided elaborate explanations as to the predictable response to feedback and the rationale for that response. Now I’ve boiled the natural response to receiving feedback into three words: The Freak Out.
Every person you know personally and professionally wants to be liked and approved of. Even the people in your office who you think are lazy want you to think they do good work. And when anyone calls another person’s competence into question, that person is likely to freak out (become defensive).
It’s very difficult not to get at least a little bit defensive when receiving feedback. A defensive response often sounds something like, “Thanks for the telling me that. Can I tell you why I did it that way?” The problem with that slightly defensive response is that what the other person hears is, “You’re not listening. I am wasting my time talking to you.” Then the conversation quickly ends. People want to feel heard. And when the feedback recipient becomes defensive, the person giving feedback doesn’t feel heard.
Don’t feel badly about becoming defensive when you receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive when receiving bad news just means you’re a living, breathing human being with feelings. That beats the alternative. But The Freak Out scares people. They don’t want to deal with your mild, moderate, or very defensive reactions.
Because people want to avoid The Freak Out, they keep negative feedback to themselves or worse, tell someone else. If you want more truth, you need to make it clear there won’t be negative repercussions for speaking up.
Here are seven steps to get others comfortable giving you negative feedback:
1. Ask for feedback
2. Be specific about the type of feedback you want.
3. Tell the person from whom you’re asking for feedback when and where she can observe you in action.
A bad example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback. Feel free to give it anytime.” This is too vague and doesn’t demonstrate seriousness on your part.
A good example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback on the pace of the new hire orientation program. Will you sit through the first hour next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m., and tell me what you think of the pace and why?” This request tells the person specifically what you want and demonstrates you’re serious about wanting her feedback.
4. When you receive feedback say, “Thank you for telling me. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you in a few days to talk more.”
5. Don’t respond to negative feedback immediately. Walk away instead of responding.
6. If you’d like more information or want to tell the person you disagree with what she said, wait until you’re calm to have that conversation.
7. You can express a counter point of view, you just can’t do it immediately after you receive the feedback.
No matter what a person’s role in your life – your boss, a peer, external customer, or even spouse – it takes courage to give you feedback. When a conversation requires courage, the speaker’s emotions are heightened. If the feedback recipient’s emotions rise in response to the feedback, conversations escalate. This is how arguments start. If you want to put the other person at ease and get more feedback in the future, do the opposite of what she is expecting. Rather than getting even the slightest bit defensive, do the opposite. Say, “Thank you for the feedback. I’m sorry you had that experience. I’m going to think about what you’ve said, and may come back to you to talk more.” Then walk away.
Walking away, when all you want to do is react, is very difficult. Walking away will require a good deal of self control, but the rewards are great. You will build trust, strengthen your relationships, and get more information than you have in the past, information you need to manage your career, reputation and business.
Many year-end performance reviews include whatever the manager and direct report can remember happening during the last six to twelve weeks of the year. For the most part, managers and direct reports sit in front of blank performance appraisals and self-appraisal forms and try to remember everything that happened during the year. The result: A vague, incomplete performance review that leaves employees feeling disappointed, if not discounted.
If you were disappointed by your performance review this year, don’t let it happen again next year. Take charge of your career by writing your own goals.
One of the first companies I worked for did the goal process so well, I learned early in my career how powerful well written goals could be. Each employee set five to seven goals. Experienced employees wrote their own goals and then discussed those goals with their manager. Less experienced employees wrote their goals with their manager. Managers wrote goals for inexperienced employees. The goals were so specific and clear that there could be no debate at the end of the year whether or not the goal had been achieved. It was obvious. Either employees had done what they said they would, or they hadn’t. This made writing performance appraisals very easy. Very little on the appraisal was subjective. And this gave employees a feeling of control over their year and performance.
It’s great if you work for an organization or manager who works with you to write goals. If you don’t, write your own goals and present them to your manager for discussion and approval. Managers will be impressed you took the initiative to write goals and will be thankful for the work it takes off of them.
Goals should be simple and clear. It must be obvious whether you achieved the goal or not. There should be little if any room for debate.
Sample goals are below.
Desired Outcome (goal):
• Improve client feedback – too vague
• Get better written reviews from clients – better
• 80% of clients respond to surveys and respond with an average rating of 4.5 or above – best
Actions you will take to achieve the goal:
• Ask clients for feedback throughout project — too vague
• Ask clients for feedback weekly – better
• Visit client site weekly. Talk with site manager. Ask for feedback — best
Completed sample goal:
How to approach your manager with written goals:
Try using this language with your manager: “I want to be sure I’m working on the things that are most important to you and the organization. I’ve written some goals for 2014 to ensure I’m focused on the right things. Can we review the goals, and I’ll edit them based on your input? And what do you think of using the agreed-upon goals to measure my performance in 2014?
You have nothing to lose by writing goals and presenting them to your manager. You will gain respect from your manager, clarity of your 2014 priorities, and more control of your year-end performance review. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.
Most of us grapple with whether or not we should give feedback when someone else does or says something frustrating.
Here are a few criteria to help you decide whether or not you should give feedback or say nothing:
Do you have a relationship with the person? Do you know each other well enough to share your opinion? Aka, have you earned the right?
Has the other person requested your opinion? Unsolicited feedback often goes on deaf ears.
If the other person has not requested your opinion, does he appear open to hearing feedback?
Are you trying to make a difference for the other person or just make him look or feel badly?
Do you want to strengthen the relationship?
Before you give feedback, do something I call, ‘check your motives at the door.’ If your motives are pure – you want to strengthen the person or the relationship, and you have a good enough relationship that you’ve earned the right to speak up — then do it.
People are more open to feedback when they trust our motives. If we have a good relationship with the person and he knows we’re speaking up to make a difference for him or for the relationship, you’ll be able to say way more than if your motives are questionable – aka you want to be right.
Posted under Uncategorized on March 3, 2013 by Shari Harley. 1 Comments
Most of us have heard the ‘motivational’ phrase, “Live every day as if it was your last.” I don’t think that’s a great plan. If I lived every day as if it was my last I’d say things I’d regret and eat so much chocolate, cookies, and ice cream, I’d be the size of a house. I’d prefer to ask this question: “How would I live if this was the best day of my life?”
If every day was going to be the best day of your life, what would you do? Who would you spend time with? What would you give your time and energy to? What would you think about? Our thoughts drive our daily experience more than anything else.
When I’m frustrated and stressed out, which is a regular occurrence, I ask myself, “What if today was the best day of my life?” And that question shifts my thoughts, which alters my experience. It quiets the constant churn in my brain, which has me feel like I’m a hamster on a treadmill of constant problem solving, and at times obsessing about what will and won’t be.
The next time you’re upset or having a bad day, ask yourself, “What if this was the best day of my life? What would I give my time, energy, and attention to?” And if your energy is misplaced, it’s easy to make that change.
The concept of simply choosing to be happy may sound unrealistic and pollyanna, but it’s working for me. When I’m frustrated and can get present enough to make a conscious choice about where to put my thoughts, versus being on auto pilot, I tell myself to choose happiness. And it usually works. Just thinking, “I choose to be happy” gets me out of my regular thoughts, which typically take me nowhere good.
I have first world problems, and for the most part, so do you. The work gets done in time. The relationships work out, as do the finances. All you have is today. Choose happiness.
Posted under Uncategorized on March 1, 2013 by Shari Harley. 0 Comments
You can say more than you think you can at work. You just need to lay some groundwork, and most people don’t. So difficult conversations remain…difficult. Change your business communication and improve your business relationships.
Listen to my conversation with colleague Heather Stagl on her radio show, A Change Agent’s Dilemma and get the words to use to say anything to anyone.
The people in your life are not inclined to tell you the truth. In fact, they’ve been trained not to. Every time your friends, family, and coworkers told the truth (as they saw it) and the recipient responded defensively, their brains got trained –it’s not safe to tell the truth. So they stopped doing it.
Gossip damages relationships and tears families and organizations apart. But gossiping about the things that frustrate us feels easier and safer than talking to the offender directly when we anticipate resistance.
We have all watched our friends at work wear clothing that wasn’t the best choice, over speak in meetings, and make other career-limiting moves. And we said nothing. Because we felt it wasn’t our place to say something, or the input was not invited nor welcome.
If you want to be successful at work and for your career to grow, you need to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth. These people don’t need to be your direct supervisor, the leaders in your organization, or your customers, although they may be. They can be your friends, family, and coworkers.
If you are consistently late, wear clothing that is not appropriate for work, or make commitments and then break them, your friends and family know that. Some people say they are a different person at work and at home. I don’t know that I buy that. We may exhibit different communication methods at work and at home, but our bad habits are the same.
The coworkers you sit near see and hear you work. They witness many of the good and not-so-good things you do at work that either help or damage your reputation. But they won’t tell you what those things are if you don’t ask. And even if you do ask, they still may not tell you. You have to ask for feedback and make it easy (safe) to give.
I recommend assembling what I call a Core Team of five or six people who will always tell you the truth. These are people who like and care about you. They are not the people you distrust and are struggling to work with. They may be current or past coworkers, friends from high school, college or today, and family members. These are the people who really know you and want you to be successful, and will thus tell you the truth –if you ask.
Here’s how to ask for feedback from the people in your life who care about you:
Pick a few people, using the criteria above, to be on your Core Team.
Tell them you want to get a better sense of the positive and not-so-positive things you do that may impact your reputation at work.
Here’s how you could ask for feedback:
“I am committed to my career and I want to eliminate any blind spots that may limit me. You know me well and watch me work. I would really appreciate your feedback. When you see me do anything that may limit my success, I give you permission to tell me. And if you’d like, I’ll do the same for you. I promise that no matter what you say and how hard it is to hear, I will make it easy to give me feedback and I will say thank you.”
Ask for specific feedback.
Examples of questions you could ask:
What is the first impression I make?
What’s my reputation in the office?
What do I do that makes me good to work with?
What do I do that makes me challenging to work with?
If I could change one thing that would make me more successful, what would it be?
What strengths do I have that I should use more and leverage?
Promise that no matter what they tell you and how difficult it is to hear, you will say thank you. And tell them you may come back to them with questions and to discuss further after you’ve processed what they said.
Saying thank you and nothing else, as you react to the feedback, which you will, makes it safe to give you feedback and more likely that you will receive feedback more than once.